How To Protect Your Identity
In today’s world, it can feel impossible to keep your identity safe from hackers, thieves and other nefarious actors. Fortunately, a few basic precautions make it much more difficult for someone to steal your identity.
Social media accounts are often treasure troves of personal data. Anyone viewing your profile, whether authorized to do so or not, can see useful biographical tidbits such as your birthday and hometown. Practice social media safety to keep this information protected.
Adjust the settings on all of your accounts to the maximum privacy level. Delete old posts that reveal your birthday, address (past or present), phone number or other sensitive data. As a general rule, if you have to give out the information to verify your identity, don’t share it online. Even seemingly benign facts, such as your pet’s name, can be a useful tool for hackers if you use it for passwords or as the answer to security questions.
Don’t connect online with individuals you don’t trust offline. It may be useful to create a professional social media account, such as a LinkedIn profile, to contact people you only know through work and do not wish to associate with on personal accounts.
While you should avoid sharing too much information on your social media accounts, there will be situations in which you must share your personal details with others. Although your identity is vulnerable during these transactions, there are ways to protect yourself.
Only do business with reputable organizations, and ask what measures they have in place to protect customers’ identities. For example, some companies use identity proofing software that makes it difficult for someone else to impersonate you successfully. Ask about their firewall and other digital protection methods.
Don’t give out personal details over the phone unless you initiated the call, and double check the phone number to ensure you are calling who you intend to and not an imposter. Verify the integrity of any website that you visit by inspecting the URL address. The address should match the one listed in informational material from the company. Keep in mind that government sites always have .gov addresses.
Online banking allows you to see most transactions in real time so that you can notify the bank or credit card company of any unusual activity and stop an identity thief early. Sign up for a credit monitoring service to keep an eye on your credit score and open accounts.
Your computer, phone and tablet are likely to store a significant amount of sensitive data. Keep this information safe with strong antivirus software. Some services are bundled with other helpful identity protection features.
Update your technology regularly to install the latest security patches. Make sure all electronics are protected with a unique password or PIN. For added convenience, many devices are now enabled with biometric scanners so that you can use facial recognition or a fingerprint instead of a password. Never leave your devices unattended in a public area.
Your personal information is not limited to cyberspace. It also appears on physical documents, including tax returns and bank statements. Where possible, switch to paperless services so that you are not tasked with storing or disposing sensitive paperwork. When you have physical copies, keep them in a safe location, such as a locked filing cabinet. Shred these documents before discarding them. If you do not have a shredder, soak the paper in water until it is unreadable. Check your mailbox daily to minimize the chances of someone stealing something important. Consider renting a Post Office box if you receive a lot of sensitive paperwork in the mail.
Your identity is one of your most valuable assets. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most vulnerable. Be mindful of how you share and store personal information. Take appropriate safeguards, and monitor your transactions carefully so that you can act quickly should your identity ever become compromised.